Anxiety: a feeling of unease, worry or nervousness.
We all know what it is, but would you recognise it in a child?
You can probably see it in my child in this photo: eyes looking to one side out of concern, the false half smile, the pale complexion, the rigid frozen stance. If you met her in person you might see the chewing of her tongue, the bowed head, the hiding, or the inability to speak to those she doesn’t know. But this isn’t always how anxiety looks.
Anxiety might look like the silent child, or it might be the screaming child.
Anxiety might look like the child who can’t speak, or the one who can’t stop speaking.
Anxiety might look like the child who avoids attention at all costs, or the child who needs to be the centre of attention at all times.
Anxiety might look like the child who appears to be the ‘teacher’s pet’, or the child who is more like the thorn in their side.
Anxiety might look like the child who conforms always, or the one determined to always stand out.
Anxiety might look like good behaviour, or challenging behaviour.
Anxiety is no respecter of age, colour, gender, geography or religion. It can be found alone or with a long list of other diagnosis. There can be an underlying cause or just a general character trait. It can be mild enough to never be diagnosed or severe enough to need hospitalisation. Medication can help but it can also make it worse.
Anxiety looks like a child at mainstream school or a child with very complex needs.
It can be neurological, psychological or triggered by trauma.
Anxiety can look like any child anywhere.
So, when you next see a child meltdown,
Hear a child scream,
See them physically panic,
Watch their body shake,
Wipe their silent tears,
Hold them as they kick, scream or punch,
Listen as they talk nonstop without a pause,
Feel helpless as they curl up and shut down,
Puzzle as sensory needs suddenly escalate,
Yawn as they can’t sleep,
Feel confused as they over or under eat,
Or struggle to answer an overwhelming amount of questions...
Stop and think that this isn’t a child being difficult, or challenging or disobedient, this is just what anxiety looks like in its many forms.
Be gentle, patient, supportive and reassuring. We all react to that feeling of nervousness, worry and unease differently and children often can’t control what anxiety looks like in their lives.
Be the calm, predictable, stable influence the child needs. You might never take it away but you’ll always leave a child feeling more understood and accepted regardless what anxiety looks like in this life.
To all those who, like my daughter, live with anxiety daily: May more people read this and see you are anxious and support you. You are not alone feeling that unease, worry and nervousness. I just wish it didn’t affect you as badly as it does. I hope people realise that anxiety looks just like you.